Since Friday three Coloradans lost their lives in avalanche accidents, and 132 avalanches were reported. CAIC photo.
The Colorado Avalanche Information Center is urging people headed to the mountains to exercise extra care in the mountains and pay special attention to the avalanche forecast. To put it bluntly, avalanche conditions are extremely dangerous right now, not just in Colorado, but all across the West thanks to recent heavy snowfall on top of a very weak snowpack structure. Please exercise more than your usual caution if you choose to travel in the mountains in the coming days. Even if you trigger a small slide, being dragged through trees or over rocks in the shallow early-season snowpack may leave you severely injured or dead. Since Friday three Coloradans lost their lives in avalanche accidents, and 132 avalanches were reported. One hundred and eight avalanches were triggered by people in the last week, according to CAIC Director Ethan Greene.
More people die in avalanches in Colorado than any other state, and this year conditions are especially dangerous. This is not the landscape-changing event we saw in March of 2019, but it is the weakest snowpack we’ve seen since 2012. People need to recognize we have unusual conditions and their usual practices may not keep them out of harm’s way. As we gain more snow in the coming weeks, avalanches could become even more dangerous. We urge everyone to check the avalanche forecast before you plan your day in the mountains, particularly as we enter the holiday season.
Here are the numbers:
In the last week: 380 avalanches reported, 108 triggered by people.
Since Friday: 132 avalanches, 49 triggered by people, 9 people have been caught in avalanches, 3 people were killed in avalanches.
Why is this important?
There have been a lot of avalanches and a lot of people are getting caught in them. The snowpack is below average across the state. Avalanches are mostly small, but very easy to trigger. This week, we have seen avalanches grow in size and they are going to continue to get bigger as the mountains get more snow.
We have avalanches every year, why is this different?
Colorado is the home of weak snow and avalanches are not uncommon. This year is worse. We haven’t seen conditions this bad since 2012. Although the avalanche conditions are not unprecedented, they are worse than many people are used to. People are using avalanche-safety strategies that have worked in recent years, but current conditions require additional caution.
What can you do?
The most important thing you can do is check the avalanche forecast before you go into the backcountry. Go to www.colorado.gov/avalanche or get the Friends of CAIC’s mobile app. Look at the current avalanche conditions and plan accordingly. Steep slopes where the snow supports your weight are dangerous. Avalanches are easy to trigger. They can break wider than you expect. You can trigger avalanches from low-angle terrain, below or to the side of a steep slope. If you’re unsure about the conditions, stay on slopes less than 30 degrees steep that are not connected to steeper terrain.
Even the most experienced riders aren't immune to unstable snowpack. Maurice Kervin learned this firsthand last Friday while snowboarding on Loveland Pass, his 65th day of riding this season. Kervin and his ski partners had been keeping a close eye on the avalanche forecast all week. Although the danger had actually dropped, Kervin recalls feeling unsure of the conditions. Intending to ski a line called 'No Name,' the pair set out, and tested snow stability along the way, not finding any red
Big waves are nothing new to surfers these days, but how about to skiers? California skier Chuck Patterson decided to combine two of his favorite things-- big wave surfing and skiing on some of Half Moon Bay's biggest swells. Using custom skis designed specifically for this feat, and taking inspiration from Patterson's late friend, Shane McConkey, they allow him to carve the waves as he would snow. Fitted with classic ski bindings, and worn with regular ski boots, the carnage if Patterson
Utah's snowpack continues to be unstable and unpredictable. Three snowmobilers experienced it firsthand while riding in Franklin Basin, Utah near the Idaho border last week. The three were out riding when one of them triggered a slide and was carried down to a tree well. He deployed his airbag but was buried under three feet of snow for around fifteen minutes before being rescued by his partners. While the rider was unresponsive upon being found by his partners, they were able to revive him